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Hard throwers, quick feet are Packers strengths

By Scott A. Kolb

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

Speed on the bases and solid pitching will the cornerstones of the Austin Packers softball team this season.

Seniors Tana Lukes and Autumn Jurgensen are the returning starters for the Packers.

Lukes is a solid defensive player in the infield, but it’s her speed on the bases that has the potential to ignite the Austin offense.

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Jurgensen has been on the varsity since she was a sophomore and split time with Laura Davis last season as the starting pitching duo.

Jurgensen takes over the main starter role this season, and she will see most of the innings on the mound for the Packers.

Austin coach Steve Knox has a lot of young players to mix in with the returning veterans.

There are eight seniors coming back and a total of 20-plus players on the roster.

The other seniors for the Packers are: Courtney Orth, Amanda Adams, Jessica Neumann, Brittney Hoban, Maggie Jorgenson, and Abby Hovland.

There are also eight juniors on the roster.

‘A lot of potential’

"We have a lot of younger kids with strong potential, so we’re giving them a chance to see what they can do in the pre-season practices," coach Knox said. "Tana and Autumn were starters last season, plus Abby and Courtney played extensively in some of the games.

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"The other girls who are now seniors saw varying amounts of playing time last year, so they have some game experience. Overall, this is a young group of players, but they’re all working hard to get ready for the season."

Last year, the Packers finished with a 15-10 overall record.

With a veteran pitcher like Jurgensen returning to the mound, the Packers will definitely look to improve on that mark this season.

Although most of the pitching load will fall on Jurgensen, the Packers are scheduled to play five doubleheaders this season and they do have some relief help for their senior hurler.

The potential backup pitchers for the Packers would be sophomore Sara Sundberg and eighth-grader Marie Clennon.

The frost still has not gone out from the fields at the North Todd Park complex, so the Packers haven’t yet been outside to test their skills on the diamond.

The season opener is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at Owatonna, but the weather conditions will likely still play a role in whether the season gets started on time.

"We tried to go outside for some practice last Friday, but we were not able to find a facility that was ready," Knox said. "We’re waiting for the frost to come out, and the girls have been confined to playing in the gym so far.

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"They’re ready to get outside and play ball and we’re anxious as coaches to see how they perform. I can’t wait to see how well they will do, and we feel good about our chances this season."

Wide open Big Nine

Knox looks for it to be a wide-open race in the Big Nine Conference.

He lists Mankato West and East, along with Rochester Mayo and John Marshall to be the toughest teams in the conference. After the conference race is completed in May, the outlook of the section will be changed. Both Lakeville North and South, along with Rosemount have moved out of Austin’s section.

Red Wing, Northfield, Farmington and Hastings will join the other Big Nine schools, outside of the Mankato teams, in the post-season tournament at Todd Park.

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